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Mustangs, surviving in poor air quality due to wildfires, to be subjected to fall helicopter stampede; Agency rejects alternatives and fails to disclose cost of proposed capture operation
Challis, Idaho (September 18, 2012) . . . A national wild horse coalition today blasted the Idaho Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for yesterday’s decision to proceed with a helicopter roundup and removal of 132 wild horses from the Challis Herd Management (HMA). In issuing its decision, the BLM ignored over 5,400 emails, letters and faxes from American taxpayers urging the agency to pursue alternatives that would leave the Challis horses on the range, the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) said today. The campaign also criticized the agency for failing to disclose and analyze the costs of the proposed action, which include a helicopter stampede/capture operation and lifetime warehousing of captured horses who are not adopted.
“The Challis BLM is grossly irresponsible for ignoring unprecedented public outcry against forced cruel and expensive helicopter roundups and removals of federally-protected wild horses from public lands,” said Suzanne Roy, AWHPC Campaign Director. The proposed roundup would take place between October and November 2012 -- just three years after a summer helicopter stampede and capture operation claimed the lives of at least 11 Challis mustangs, orphaning several foals. In the July 2009 roundup, 366 wild horses were captured and 225 were permanently removed from the range.
“The agency is also negligent in its failure to disclose how much the proposed roundup will cost American taxpayers,” she continued, noting that the BLM claims that the information is “outside the scope” of analysis. “The government’s numbers don’t add up. It’s far more cost-effective to reduce private livestock grazing – which costs money thanks to cheap, taxpayer-subsidized grazing rates – than to continue to remove wild horses from the Challis range.” The BLM claims that horses must be removed to maintain rangeland health, yet the agency allocates five times more forage to private livestock than to federally-protected wild horses in this designated wild horse habitat area. Interestingly, the primary grazing permit holder in the HMA is not small family-owned rancher, but rather an heiress to the Hewlett-Packard fortune. “With thousands of cows grazing on 88 percent of the Challis HMA and just over 300 wild horses, it is not fathomable or reasonable to claim that a relatively few wild horses could possibly be responsible for resource damage in this 160,000-acre habitat area,” said Neda DeMayo, AWHPC founder and CEO of Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary.
According to DeMayo, who has 15 years experience managing hundreds of wild horses at her sanctuary in Santa Barbara County, California, a more cost-effective alternative to mass mustang roundups and removals has been available to the BLM for decades in the form of a non-hormonal fertility control vaccine called Native PZP. However, the agency has made only a token effort to utilize it by treating too few mares to adequately impact population growth rates. “The Challis herd is a small population that should be easily managed on their native range without the need for capture and removals,” DeMayo continued. “A committed long term effort should be made to preserve what is left of the Challis horses on their HMA without further fracturing the herd.” Photographer Elissa Kline documented the lives of the Challis herd for five years before she witnessed and photographed the 2009 roundup. Her video of the 2009 Challis roundup can be found here, and her photo essay can be viewed by clicking here. This week, she returned to the Challis HMA to photograph the remaining wild horses in advance of the roundup.
“I’m saddened and deeply distressed that the BLM is pursuing the same old failed approach to wild horse management,” Kline said today. “These Challis wild horses are a cherished part of the environment here. They should be allowed to live and die on the lands of their birth, managed on the range, not cruelly removed and warehoused so that private livestock can graze on our public lands.” After visiting the HMA this week, Kline said she is also concerned about the impact of bad air quality due to area wildfires on the Challis horses, and the possibility that these impacts will be exacerbated when they the horses are subjected to extreme exertion in the helicopter stampede.
Kline and other Idaho wild horse advocates rescued 21 mares and a gelding after the 2009 roundup. The story of that rescue can be found here. The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) is a coalition of more than 45 horse advocacy, public interest, and conservation organizations dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage. Return to Freedom (RTF) is a non-profit dedicated to preserving the freedom, diversity and habitat of America’s wild horses through sanctuary, education and conservation. RTF provides sanctuary to over 400 wild horses rescued from roundups and slaughter auctions in a pioneering model that allows the horses to live in natural social groups while controlling reproduction through the use of PZP fertility control.